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National Women's Soccer League

Last-Minute Moves Bring Intrigue to NWSL Draft

Sky Blue FC and the Portland Thorns made a blockbuster trade just ahead of Friday's NWSL draft, setting the tone for an event that featured plenty of dramatic twists and turns.
BY John D. Halloran Posted
January 16, 2016
9:30 AM

BALTIMORE—The sparks flew early and often on Friday morning at the fourth annual National Women’s Soccer League draft, as a flurry of first-round trades and announcements quickly threw everyone’s pre-draft predictions into the waste bin.

Early in the morning, before most fans and pundits even had time to get up for coffee, Sky Blue FC traded Danish striker Nadia Nadim and the third pick in the draft to the Portland Thorns in exchange for the second pick. Sky Blue then used the pick to select Penn State midfielder and Hermann Trophy winner Raquel Rodriguez, who led the Nittany Lions to the national title this fall scoring the lone goal in its 1-0 win over Duke.

Rodriguez, who is already a full Costa Rican international, also scored her nation’s first World Cup goal this summer in a 1-1 draw with Spain.

Upon being drafted, Rodriguez gave special thanks to her alma mater: “I want to give a special thanks to my school, Penn State University, for giving me the opportunity to come to the States and to play," she said. "Thank you so much for developing me, for supporting me, and making me a better soccer player.”

Things then got even more interesting when Portland came up at the No. 3 spot in the draft. Instead of making a selection, it traded the pick to the Boston Breakers in exchange for the No. 1 spot in the allocation order—a new process for the NWSL that was only announced minutes before the draft began.

Immediately, rumors began to swirl that U.S. Soccer was planning to sign 17-year-old Mallory Pugh—who is currently in camp with the senior U.S. national team—and making her available for selection by NWSL teams via the allocation order.

The Soccer Wire’s Charles Boehm then reported as much, stating that Pugh’s family specifically requested she play in Portland, where members of her extended family could host Pugh during the 2016 NWSL campaign.

In the shuffle of these moves, it was easy to forget that the Thorns also had the first pick in the draft on Friday and used it to pick another full U.S. international, Emily Sonnett.

The University of Virginia senior is also currently in camp with the U.S. women and was unable to attend the draft in person. However, Portland’s head coach, Mark Parsons, offered his thoughts on the 22-year-old from Marietta, Ga.

“She’s a fantastic player," Parsons said. "She’s a baller. She’s a defender who loves a challenge and a tackle, but she’s [also] great with the ball and very technical. And she’s a great human being, a real quality person, who you can predict can go on and be very special because she’s got those mental attributes.”

There were plenty of interesting picks in the first round. Hal Kaiser of Keeper Notes reported on Thursday that Cari Roccaro, who won a U-20 World Cup championship with the U.S. in 2012, had suffered an injury that would keep her out four to six months.

Nevertheless, Houston Dash and coach Randy Waldrum, who guided Roccaro at the University of Notre Dame in 2012 and 2013, drafted her with the fifth overall pick.

The Washington Spirit’s selection of Cheyna Williams at the No. 7 spot is also one that could be a semi-sleeper. Although Williams’ goal total dropped in her senior campaign, she scored 14 times as a junior for Florida State University, including a stunning pair of goals in last year’s national semifinal. Each goal in that match demonstrated a composure in front of the net not often seen in younger players.



First-round selections

  1. 1. Portland Thorns FC—Emily Sonnett, Virginia
  2. 2. Sky Blue FC—Raquel Rodriguez, Penn State
  3. 3. Boston Breakers—Christen Westphal, Florida
  4. 4. Seattle Reign FC—Carson Pickett, Florida State
  5. 5. Houston Dash—Cari Roccaro, Notre Dame
  6. 6. Houston Dash—Rachel Daly, St. John’s
  7. 7. Washington Spirit—Cheyna Williams, Florida State
  8. 8. Houston Dash—Janine Beckie, Texas Tech
    9. Western New York Flash—Michaela Hahn, Florida State
    10. Orlando Pride—Sam Witteman, UC-Berkeley


Three other U.S. youth internationals who represented the Americans in the 2014 U-20 World Cup were selected on Friday. Makenzy Doniak, who many projected would go as high as No. 2, fell all the way into the second round before being scooped up by the Flash.

Notre Dame defender Katie Naughton was selected by the Chicago Red Stars at No. 19. And Summer Green of North Carolina was selected at No. 30 by the Reign. Green’s stock likely fell due to an ACL injury which she suffered in the Tar Heels’ final game of the season.

John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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